The Blog's Mission

Wikipedia defines a book review as: “a form of literary criticism in which a book is analyzed based on content, style, and merit. A book review can be a primary source opinion piece, summary review or scholarly review”. My mission is to provide the reader with my thoughts on the author’s work whether it’s good, bad, or ugly. I read all genres of books, so some of the reviews may be on hard to find books, or currently out of print. All of my reviews will also be available on Amazon.com. I will write a comment section at the end of each review to provide the reader with some little known facts about the author, or the subject of the book. Every now and then, I’ve had an author email me concerning the reading and reviewing of their work. If an author wants to contact me, you can email me at rohlarik@gmail.com. I would be glad to read, review and comment on any nascent, or experienced writer’s books. If warranted, I like to add a little comedy to accent my reviews, so enjoy!
Thanks, Rick O.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

GONE ON SUNDAY


The author sent me a copy of her novel to read and review:

As I was nearing the end of this twofold mystery, a murder archetype came to my mind...Who killed Cock Robin, twice? Once in 1932 and again 1972. Tower Lowe cleverly melded two related murders forty years apart by alternating the chapters by the year of the crimes. Not only are the murders related, but so are most of the characters. The minor flaws (that) I detected in Tower’s novel were the amount of characters (too many) and a prose that was not as colorful as it could have been...where was the southern drawl? I also thought that the vernacular spoken in 1932 would be a little less modern than the language spoken in 1972. But somehow the writer made it work. The first hundred pages or so were a little confusing trying to remember all the character’s names. Once that was accomplished, I was able to track what was happening easily. This novel has more twists than Carter has Liver Pills. I defy any reader to solve both of these mysteries (I didn’t guess right on either murder). Writing alternating chapters, while also reminiscing within them, is a hard task for any author and somewhat confusing for the reader, but it was manipulated smoothly by the writer. Tower Lowe is a proficient storyteller...just needs to do a better job with her composition.

The novel starts out with twenty three year old Cotton Lee Penn investigating the murder of her cousin, Little Mary. Cotton was working for a local attorney, Max Mayfair, who was hired by Little Mary’s fiance, Walker Kane. Walker was afraid of being arrested because Little Mary was beaten to death and he was known to have beaten her before. Did he do it? Apparently, Little Mary was working on a memorial scrapbook to honor her mother who died two years ago. She was also trying to clear up the murder of her grandmother, Bead Baker, who was also beaten to death forty years prior. Cotton is a pretty lady, but limps around with a gimpy leg from a earlier bout of polio. The novel has a touch of southern discriminations of 1932 and 1972 Virginia. Both blacks (Wilson in 1932 and Muddy in 1972) faced unjust suspicion because of their color. Are they murderers? What about the mean Reverend Samuel “Sharp” Dorn? He hated Bead Baker because she was spending too much time with his wife Verdie (teaching Verdie how to cook and be independent). Rev. Dorn was also known to smack his wife around. Bead was rumored to be a witch or at least someone with a great sixth sense. Did he beat Bead Baker to death? Many more suspects emerge with good reasons to murder Bead...too many to mention in this review. I couldn’t figure out who did it.
 
Little Mary was also known as a woman with great intuition in 1972 Virginia. Many people  worried that their secrets would be revealed by Little Mary. This novel had similarities to Grace Metalious’ Peyton Place (1956) at times. Did the local school teacher, Sally Hampton, who had a secret affair, kill Little Mary? Why did Cotton’s sister, Sydney, who was married to a state senator, want Cotton off the investigation? Did she kill Little Mary? On page 51, she says to Cotton, “Little Mary knew secrets about me, and I don’t want them exposed.” The Reverend Ron Dorn (yes, the son of the 1932 Rev. Dorn) hated Little Mary...why? Cotton Lee’s college black friend, Muddy, tells Cotton that his grandmother, Grace (Bead’s maid), had three pages that she tore out of Bead Baker’s cookbook the day she was murdered. Did Bead write clues on those pages before she died? Can Cotton put the mysterious writings together? What does, One more hour at most. Remember Sugar. Sugar is sweeter than needed. Sharp, bitter-Sugar does not mask it. Sugar turns sour and rises-leaving, mean? There are two more cookbook pages with similar notes that are puzzling, but one page is missing. The pages have dried blood on them. Can Cotton Lee find out who murdered Bead Baker in 1932 and Little Mary in 1972? I’ve only mentioned a fraction of the intrigue still to come in this novel...there are no humdrum chapters.

I thought Tower Lowe’s novel could have been less perplexing if she would have trimmed down the many characters to a reasonable amount, but then I thought, maybe it would have been too easy to figure out who the murderer or murderers were... being they occured forty years apart. Whatever...she did a good job fooling me. If you think you could solve these murders, buy your own copy of Tower Lowe’s whodunit.  

RATING: 4 out of 5 stars

Comment: I know that I am being picayune when I constantly complain about the vernacular of a novel. But the novel comes alive when you use the proper slang, punctuation or accent of a particular time. Just read Mark twain, for example, and you will get what I’m saying. Here’s a quote from Twain’s 1884 novel, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (see my review of 12/17/2012):

“Yes-en I’s rich now, come to look at it. I owns mysef, en I’s worth eight hund’d dollars. I wisht I had de money, I wouldn’ want no.”

How about a quote from Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1883 novel, Treasure Island (see my review of 8/23/2016):

“Fifteen men on the Dead Man’s Chest yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum! Drink and the devil had done for the rest yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!”

Okay, you want an example of a more modern novel? How about Erskine Caldwell’s 1933 novel, God's Little Acre:

“Mr. Ty Ty, you oughta’ be out raisin’ cotton. You’re a good farmer-that is, you USED to be. Why, Mr. Ty Ty, you can raise more cotton on this land in one season than you can find gold in a whole lifetime. It’s a waste of everything, Mr Ty Ty, diggin’ them holes all over the place.”

Do you see why these writers are legendary?

Sunday, January 7, 2018

KIM

Rudyard Kipling’s Kim (published in 1901) was rather educational to read, although somewhat trying in deciphering the English/Indian language of the late 1800s British controlled India. Kim O’hara was a orphaned white boy running around India thinking and acting like he was a Hindu Indian when he meets an aged and possibly mad Tibetan lama, who is on a pilgrimage. I didn’t read Miguel de Cervantes’ novel, Don Quixote (1605), but I am familiar with the novel and the story of Kim reminded me of that classic tale. In Kim, a Tibetan lama was on a pilgrimage to find a holy River while Don Quixote was on a  knight-errant search for chivalrous adventures...a perfect match. Both seemed ‘mad as a hatter’ (were they really?). Kim became the lama’s chela (disciple), while Sancho became Don Quixote’s squire. Like Sancho, Kim is forced to deceive his master (?) at times. Anyway, both novel’s are not an easy read. I keep reading the classics, because I believe it makes me a better reviewer who can then authoritatively compare modern novels with the distinguished novels of yesteryear. Does that make sense? So what’s Kim all about? I’m glad you asked...or did you?

Kim is a poor orphaned white boy who wears Hindu garb and is loosely watched over by a half caste woman. His father, a British soldier, and mother are both dead. Around Kim’s neck is a amulet that explains who he is. He gets his meals where he can and does odd jobs for the local merchants of Lahore City, including the horse trader, Mahbub Ali. One day Kim meets a lama from Tibet in front of the Wonder House Museum, who says that he is on a pilgrimage to Benares to find a holy river that absolves one of all sins. The lama tells the Curator of the Wonder House of Lahore about his quest on page 13, “Listen to a true thing. When our gracious Lord (Buddha), being as yet a youth, sought a mate, men said, in his father’s Court, that He was too tender for marriage. Thou knowest?” The Curator nodded, wondering what would come next. “So they made the triple trial of strength against all comers. And at the test of the bow, our Lord first breaking that which they gave Him, called for such a bow as none might bend. Thou knowest?” “It is written. I have read.” “And, overshooting all other marks, the arrow passed far and far beyond sight. At the last it fell; and, where it touched earth, there broke out a stream which presently became a River, whose nature, by our Lord’s beneficence, and that merit He acquired ere He freed himself, is that whoso bathes in it washes away all taint and speckle of sin.” “So it is written,” said the Curator sadly. Now you might think that I made a lot of mistakes in the above text in punctuation and capitalization, but sorry...I only put it down exactly the same way Rudyard Kipling wrote it. And who can question his writing ability?

Since the lama was on a holy quest, he only brought his begging bowl with him. It was up to Kim, now the lama’s chela, to find food and shelter each night after their day’s walk. At the end of the first day’s walk, they end up at a large courtyard for overnight caravans. Kim has had previous dealings with the local horse trader, Mahbub Ali. Kim ask for money for food from Mahbub on page 23. And Mahbub says to Kim, “And if thou wilt carry a message for me as far as Umballa, I will give thee money. It concerns a horse-a white stallion which I have sold to an officer upon the last time I returned from the Passes. But then-stand nearer and hold up hands as begging-the pedigree of the white stallion was not fully established, and that officer, who is now at Umballa, bade me make it clear.” The message will prove the pedigree of the white stallion. Kim agrees to take the message, but “He knew he had rendered a service to Mahbub Ali, and not for one little minute did he believe the tale of the stallion’s pedigree.” Who really is Mahbub Ali? After a short sleep, Kim said to the lama, “Come. It is time-time to go to Benares” The lama rose obediently, and they passed out of the serai (caravansary) like shadows. I hope my 23 page recap whet your appetite for the rest of the novel. There is a lot of adventure ahead if you can fist fight your way through the tough vernacular of late 1800s India. This novel is not for everyone. It will test your mettle, but make you feel like you accomplished something noteworthy...and you did.

RATING: 5 out of 5 stars

Comment: I’m glad that I finally read a Rudyard Kipling (12/30/1865 to 1/18/1936) novel (some literary experts say that it was his best novel) as I continue my quest to read at least one novel from each of the classic writers (I could only hope to live so long).

Kipling is famously quoted as saying, “If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.” and “Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.” Is he on the money, or what?

Besides Kim, Kipling's other works are highlighted by The Jungle Book (1894), The Man Who Would Be King (1888) and Gunga Din (1890), which was originally a poem. Gunga Din became a major motion picture in 1939 starring Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Cary Grant, Victor McLaglen and Sam Jaffe as Gunga Din (the waterboy).   

Sunday, December 31, 2017

A GENTLEMAN IN MOSCOW

What a wonderful novel. What marvelous prose. I likened Amor Towles’ writing style to the writers of yesteryear. I can’t remember when I read a modern novel that matched his artistry as a wordsmith. Add his storytelling ability to the above talents and walah, you have his second New York Times bestseller. The story is well thought out: In 1922, an aristocrat, Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov, returns to Moscow after a four year stay in Paris. He finds himself now a enemy of the ruling party of Bolsheviks (the Worker's Party) led by Vladimir Lenin. The last Tsar, Nicholas II, is dead and so is the conception of royalty and their privileged lifestyle. It seems the Count wrote a poem, Where is it now? in 1913 (four years before the fall of the Tsar). The poem had nothing to do with Lenin’s revolution, but the Emergency Committee of the People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs accused the Count of writing against the Worker Party. The party’s prosecutor wants to know if the Count “came back with the intention of taking up arms and, if so, whether for or against the Revolution.” The Count says, “By that point, I’m afraid that my days of taking up arms were behind me.” The prosecutor wants to know what Rostov’s occupation is. Rostov says, “It is not the business of gentlemen to have occupations.” The Prosecutor then asks, “Very well then. How do you spend your time?” Rostov says, “Dining, discussing. Reading, reflecting. The usual rigmarole.” I’m only on page five and I was hooked already.

Later on on page five and six, the Committee decides the Count’s fate after a twelve minute recess, “Alexander Ilyich Rostov, taking into full account your own testimony, we can only assume that the clear-eyed spirit who wrote the poem Where is it now? has succumbed irrevocably to the corruptions of his class - and now poses a threat to the very ideals he once espoused. On that basis, our inclination would be to have you taken from this chamber and put against the wall. But there are those within the senior ranks of the Party who count you among the heroes of the pre-revolutionary cause. Thus, it is the opinion of this committee that you should be returned to the hotel of which you are so fond. But make no mistake: should you ever set foot outside the Metropol again, you will be shot. Next Matter.” It’s obvious that the Bolsheviks want the remaining royalty silenced. By the way, The Metropol is a real luxury hotel in Moscow. Is this a great idea for a novel or what? Can the Count live in a hotel for the rest of his life with no hope of enjoying his customary stroll around Theatre Square? After his sentencing, he is escorted back to the hotel, but not to his luxury suite. His new living quarters will be a small attic room that will not fit all his stuff (for the lack of a better word). He takes some of his furniture and possessions up stairs...the rest of his belongings are now the property of the people.

On page 16, the Metropol Hotel employees were bewildered: “When he had been carted off that morning, they had all assumed that he would never return. He had emerged from behind the walls of the Kremlin like an aviator from the wreckage of a crash.” Since the Count had already resided in the hotel for four years, he knew all the employees by name. “My dear friends,” said the Count, “no doubt you are curious as to the day’s events. As you may know, I was invited to the Kremlin for a tete-a-tete. There, several duly goateed officers of the current regime determined that for the crime of being born an aristocrat, I should be sentenced to spend the rest of my days...in this hotel.” Everybody cheered! So at this point (page 16), the novel starts for real. The author turns the Count’s next 30 plus years in the hotel into an exciting and intriguing filled drama. You will become familiar with the hotel’s restaurants, bars and employees; it’s famous and not so famous guests, but most of all you will get the flavor of communism’s early years. It’s almost like the movie, Casablanca, but not played out in Rick’s bar (do you remember the bar’s owner, Humphrey Bogart?), but played out in the Metropol Hotel with the undertones of communism instead of Casablancas Nazi atmosphere. Overall, I was mesmerized by Amor Towles’ story and extraordinary prose. Get your copy now...you will not be sorry.

RATING: 5 out of 5 stars

Comment: I got my copy of A Gentleman in Moscow in December 2016 at a Barnes and Noble store during their annual “signed copy” sale (it took me a year later to finally get around to read it). If you haven’t visited that signed edition December sale...you should next year.

I was amazed how a tyrant like Joseph Stalin could be mourned by so many after he died on 3/3/1953. The man also known as Dear Father, Vozhd, Koba and Soso ruled Russia with a iron fist for about thirty years was surprisingly bewailed by the Russian population. An excerpt from page 349 of Towles novel examines the reasons why:

“On the sixth, Harrison Salisbury, the new Moscow bureau chief of The New York Times, stood in the Count’s old rooms to watch as members of the Presidium arrived in a cavalcade of ZIM limousines and as Soso’s coffin, taken from a bright blue ambulance, was borne ceremoniously inside. And on the seventh, when the Palace of Unions was opened to the public. Salisbury watched in some amazement as the line of citizens waiting to pay their respects stretched five miles across the city.”

“Why, many Western observers wondered, would over a million citizens stand in line to see the corpse of a tyrant? The flippant said it must have been to ensure that he was actually dead; but such a remark did not do justice to the men and women who waited and wept. In point of fact, legions mourned the loss of the man who had led them to victory in the Great Patriotic War against the forces of Hitler; legions more mourned the loss of the man who had so single-mindedly driven Russia to become a world power; while others simply wept in recognition that a new era of uncertainty had begun.”

Whatever the reason was, it didn’t matter to Nikita Khrushchev, who watched the spectacle on the sidelines...while he waited for his turn to abuse the Russian people.   

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Rafe Rebellius and the Clash of the Genres


The author sent an autographed copy of his novel to my fourteen 
year old grandson, Kai O to read and review:

Rafe Rebellius never stays in one place for long. His parents are scientists and constantly need to move because of their research projects. On their latest move, Rafe's parents say that they are staying put for good. This time they have moved in with relatives, but it doesn't take long before Rafe's parents need to move again. Rafe is left on his own with family members he has never met. 


When Rafe's new home and family members are threatened, he has to travel into the books that are in the house's large library to try to find the money to pay off the family's debt. Rafe needs to navigate through many different genres of books in order to attempt to get the money. Rafe Rebellius will meet many different characters throughout his journeys, including Two Gun, Fem and Whic. 

Overall, I thought this was an interesting read, but the one thing I didn't like was that the dialog seemed forced in some places. This was a different book from anything I've ever read. I would recommend this novel to the 7 to 12 age group.

RATING: 4 out of 5 stars

Comment: Kai seemed to struggle with this novel because it seemed babyish to him. I will not ask him to review a book below his age group again. 

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Bird of Prey


The author sent me a copy of his novel to read and review, the review was done by Book Review contributor, Pat Koelmel:
Most days, I get my exercise from a brisk, five-mile walk, and along the way, I sometimes see roadkill. It isn’t often I see a dead cat, but when I do, it breaks my heart even more than seeing a dead squirrel or opossum. So I usually find a way to pull the cat’s body off the road to spare it further insult from passing cars. Therefore, I admit I wasn’t exactly thrilled about the thought of reading a book about a sadistic, kitty-killing seagull.
And once I started to read Bird of Prey, I wasn’t thrilled with its execution either. The seemingly never-ending sentences (the one I chose to add up totaled a whopping 131 words) were distracting as well as the bunching up of the dialogue of multiple characters into a single paragraph rather than separating it out as it is traditionally done. On top of that, there were a lot of grammatical errors. I also initially had a hard time getting into the story. In fact, the first pages left me wondering if there was ever going to be one. I was actually ready to slap a two-star rating on this novel and call it a day (which I now wonder, after finishing the book, if that could have been due, in part, to all those distractions).   
But, lo and behold, with the onset of Chapter 3, a story did appear to emerge with a character by the name of Mrs. Crick, an elderly, arthritic bird lover. Unfortunately, Mrs. Crick’s fascination with birds is described in too much detail and goes on way too long for my taste. And again, I started to wonder if a real story was ever coming. And, yes, Virginia, not only is there a Santa Claus, it turns out there is a story too … and a pretty good one at that. (Sorry, but I couldn’t resist the Christmas reference. ‘Tis the season after all.)
So how could a story about a seagull bent on killing cats be so good? Well, first of all, there’s a bit more to this 128-page novel. Set in the English seaside town of Bexhill-on-Sea, public outcry over the discovery of one dead cat after another soon gets the police involved and on the hunt for the killer, assumed to be a man. But it is Mr. Ryan’s droll British wit, vivid imagination, and talent for creating a range of unique and quirky characters that truly hooked me.      
I was also impressed with Mr. Ryan’s knowledge of gulls and how he incorporated facts about them throughout the storyline. For instance, did you know that a gull can drink sea water and expel the salt through its eyelids? (It’s true; I googled it.) Additionally, Mr. Ryan provided some excellent visuals of the gull’s attacks on the cats. For example (after dropping a cat into the sea to drown): “He [the gull] fancied diving down and grabbing the cat by the face so he could bring it back up to the surface again, to watch it sink for a second time, but he’d done this before and was captured in the clutches of two desperate paws with sharp protracted claws and nearly dragged down by the weight of the desperate, tired and dying creature.” (I do wish, however, that the author took more care to not use a word like desperate twice in one sentence.)
So you can see that, while it is difficult to forgive the grammatical issues, the further I got into this book, the more I enjoyed it. Intricately woven, Bird of Prey is a rare bird and well worth the read.  
RATING: 4 out of 5 stars
Comment: After reading Bird of Prey, I couldn’t help but be reminded of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1963 thriller The Birds. Based on a story by Daphne du Maurier and set in the California seaside community of Bodega Bay, it tells the story of the sudden and unexplained onset of invading flocks of homicidal birds.
Here are some interesting “behind-the-scene” facts from a list of 25 posted by Moviephone:   
1. Daphne Du Maurier's novella, on which the film was based, was originally published in a 1952 issue of Good Housekeeping magazine. Hitchcock had adapted two previous films from Du Maurier's work: 1939's "Jamaica Inn" and 1940 Best Picture Oscar winner "Rebecca."

2. The director had long had an interest in birds. He'd been a bird-watcher as a boy. He also took inspiration from a newspaper article he read in 1961 about hordes of dead birds washing up onto the streets in the seaside California town of Capitola.

3. Hitchcock initially wanted his 1950s leading lady Grace Kelly for the role of Melanie Daniels, but after she married Prince Rainier of Monaco in 1956, she retired from acting and declined all offers to return to Hollywood. He'd also sought Anne Bancroft for the role, but even with his expansive budget, he couldn't afford her. Others on his wish list included starlets Sandra Dee, Carol Lynley, Yvette Mimieux, and Pamela Tiffin.

4. He discovered his eventual leading lady, Tippi Hedren, a model with no acting experience, when he spotted her in a TV commercial for a diet drink during NBC's "Today" show. He would eventually groom her into one of his classic icy blondes (a la Kelly, Novak, Eva Marie Saint, and Janet Leigh), choosing her clothes, hairstyle, and even her lipstick for her role as Melanie Daniels.

5. Hitchcock took his customary cameo at the beginning of the film; he can be seen outside the pet shop, walking two dogs, which were the director's own pets.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

the NEGLECTED ONES


The author sent her novel to me to read and review:

This novel was mainly a dissertation on today’s atrocious nursing home conditions. I was made to believe that this novel would be comparable to Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw (see my review of 6/15/2015). The author presented her novel to me as a suspenseful, psychological thriller with sinister overtones. That statement is flawed at best. It starts out as an ordinary story that suddenly mutates into a ridiculously zany and bizarre ending. But none of it was  suspenseful or thrilling for me. The author’s promise of ghosts haunting the nursing facility initially seemed to be an afterthought. Zelda (the main character’s mother who calls ghosts...spooks) saw a spook on page two and didn’t see another one until page 108. And when they finally appeared, they were more preposterous than scary. So what did the author do correctly? She kept the main characters down to a reasonable number. Her prose, while mostly rudimentary, seemed mistake free. It boils down to the fact that the story wasn’t electrifying nor groundbreaking. I felt no empathy for any of the characters, including the patients and the trapped ghosts. We already know that nursing homes are notoriously uncaring for a variety of reasons, which the author (to her credit) identified in her novel, but I don’t think (that) it is possible to have a catastrophic event happen every time you drop by to visit your relative (which was the case in this novel). I think the author has a feasible future in literature, but please come up with a better tale sans the fantasy part. This story is not comparable to Henry James’ classic short story. 

The story starts with a rain storm off the coast of Maine. David Reed is painting in his studio when he gets a call from one of the few good nurses from the Haven Nursing and Rehabilitation Center where his mother, Zelda, is a patient recovering from a broken hip. The nurse asks David if it’s okay for them to give his mother a drug to calm her down. David says “no” to that idea and gets in his car and drives down to the nursing home. As it turns out, his mom was being verbally abused by a mean nurse named Taylor Hanson. David arrives and calms his mom down. Zelda says, “David, please get me out of here.” David says, “Once you finish your therapy, I’ll take you home.” David explains to Zelda that the doctor will not release her until her therapy is finished. She says, “But I’m afraid.” David says, “There’s nothing to be afraid of.” Zelda says, “Yes there is. There’s spooks in here.” This is the first mention of ghosts, or spooks, as Zelda calls them. As the weeks go by, David realizes what a abusive place this nursing home is. His mom says she is refused showers, made to pee in her pants and abused every day. Kevin and Edgar Fitzgerald are friends of the Reeds. Their father (they call him Da) is also an abused patient at the Haven’s center. The abuse gets worse. David threatens to sue the doctor for reckless endangerment to no avail. David takes his grievances to the State Health Department. He gets nowhere with them, “I’m sorry. But the results of our investigation show that the staff at Haven has done nothing wrong.” Suddenly, the Fitzgerald brothers say that the Haven staff killed their Da...will the poop hit the fan? (so to speak). 

This is where the story moved into the fantasy genre. It’s kind of like when the movie, The Wizard of Oz went from black and white to color. Like when King Kong left the jungle and arrived in NYC, or when Alice in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland fell through a rabbit hole into a fantasy world. Why C. L. Salaski switched from a drama to a fantasy is something only she knows. But all is not lost. If the novel was awful, I wouldn’t have finished the book. I finished the book. Strong evidence of what I said in my opening sentence in the first paragraph is presented at the end of the novel. On the last page, the author list eight things you can do to end neglect and abuse in nursing homes. If this is a subject you are interested in, then by all means, read this novel...it could motivate you to do something good.

RATING: 2 out of 5 stars

Comment: I wonder if this novel could be considered portal fantasy. Basically, it’s about moving from our world (in this case at Haven Nursing) to another world (the angels taking the ghosts to heaven). It might be stretching the definition, but it does fit. B&N Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog say that one of the best portal fantasy novels is Neil Gaiman’s, Coraline :

“One of Gaiman’s earlier novels, with a successful movie adaption from Laika Studios, Coraline is one of those deceptively terrifying books that draw you with mysterious descriptions, and then hold you tight as the scares and the creeps come faster and faster. Coraline and her family move to a new house, and young Coraline is pretty fed up with it; it’s old, it’s boring, and her parents do not give her the attention she wants. But when she discovers the key to a locked door in the living room, she goes through into a different world: a big, beautiful, lavish house, with parents who shower her with attention and treats, with entertainment around every corner. It is perfect. So perfect, she doesn’t even mind that her other Mother and Other Father have buttons for eyes. And that they don’t like when she leaves. And, in fact, don’t want her to go at all. Gaiman’s spooky story is a prime illustration of how sometimes, an imperfect world is a perfectly fine thing, and that what you journey to find may have been in front of you all along.” 

Saturday, December 9, 2017

The ELIXIR

The author sent me an autographed copy of his novel to read and review:

Bud Hutchins is back and better than ever! JB Michaels, writer of middle grade YA novels, introduces his young inventor/detective to another wacky case to unravel. Is JB Michaels starting to lean towards the personas of one of my favorite writers, Terry Pratchett (4/28/1948 to 3/12/2015)? While there isn’t a Discworld, there are some familiar characters. Missing are wizards, dwarfs, trolls and of course...DEATH. Will they start to appear in book three? The author’s latest Hutchins adventure almost had a comic book feel about. During the various fights in the novel, I could almost visualize the Batman fight words: BAM!, KAPOW!, WHACK! and POW! Is this novel restricted to young adults? I don’t think so. Any reader who enjoys Rick Riordan novels or J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter novels will enjoy the Bud Hutchins’ series. If I keep writing, I’m going to give the author a swollen head. Nevertheless, I do need to mention that Bud Hutchins has the ability to transport to different destinations a la Star Trek. The difference being that Bud leaves markers in different places and then transports to them later. Okay, enough of what I liked (did I mention that I loved the short chapters?). What didn’t I like? The novel was too short. What else? Well, I was hoping that the Frankenstein experiment on top of the Sears Tower would have been successful (just kidding). The only other flaw (that) I found was minor. It's customary when writing a novel to write in italics when a person is thinking something. A example of what I'm saying is in my last paragraph...the author wrote, Bud thought, "perhaps I should intervene." I changed it to, Bud thought, "perhaps I should intervene." I know it's picayune, but it's a pet peeve of mine.

The story opens with Bud (a PI) and Bert (an android built by Bud) filming a Dr. Covington of the Chicago Met University with his teacher’s assistant, Tricia Pazinski. Bud was hired by Mrs. Covington to find out if her husband was having an affair. Bud’s drone films the couple in a passionate kiss. Bert says to Bud, “We should have enough evidence to convince Mrs. Covington of her husband’s foul behavior.” Bud and Bert head back to their office in Bud’s missing grandfather’s home. The house also billets the undead Maeve (remember her in book one?) in a basement freezer. A werewolf monk had torn out her throat previously and now she has a artificial voice box. Is this story a trip or what? Maeve and Bud (a semi-member) are members of the Order of St. Michael, who are pledged to protect the Earth from evil spirits. Since the house is for sale and a realtor has an appointment to show the house to a couple, Bud leaves the house a mess on purpose, but more importantly forgets to lock the freezer (and there is a full moon tonight). Obviously the realtor and her clients run out of the house after encountering Maeve, who has now turned into a full-blown werewolf (HaHa). Maeve also runs out of the house and races (following a strong scent) towards a cemetery. Bud and Bert pursue Maeve. Don’t worry, I’m not giving the story away...I’m only on page 19. I’m just whetting your whistle for what’s ahead.

“She (Maeve) entered the Mt. Olivet cemetery with a single leap...the scent grew stronger. She reached the top of the hill and down the path saw a police squad car. Parked...the squad car’s passenger door and rear passenger side door were open...there was an unconscious police officer inside...another officer’s head rested on the steering wheel...their sidearms were missing….the shotgun missing. The source of the odor had to have been here. It was the strongest in this area.” Suddenly shots rang out towards her. “Then she saw him - a man dressed in a cream trench coat and a suit that matched the jacket. He wore a fedora cocked to the left. The man’s face bore a large scar. Al Capone had risen from the dead.” A ferocious fight ensued. Bud thought, "perhaps I should intervene." After the fight was over, "The ghostly Capone was a blue bloody mess. His face was literally covered with scars. Maeve's shoulders and chest raised and lowered quickly. She stepped back from the mess of Al Capone. She looked up at Bud then fell to the ground in a growl." All right, you had your 25 page taste of this novel. Are you ready to buy your own copy of this action-packed novel or what? I think JB Michaels’ age target is probably 12 to 18 years old, but seniors (like me) can also enjoy a fast-moving YA novel sans profanity and sex every so often...can’t we? I guess you realize that I loved this novel. I highly recommend it to any age group.

RATING: 5 out of 5 stars

Comment: I mentioned in the first paragraph, Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series. For quite a few years I read his extraordinary novels until I decided to move on to other genres and authors. He wrote 41 novels in the series and sold 85 million copies in 37 different languages. He was known to wear a large (usually black) fedora hat. He died at the young age of 66 (I say young because I’ll be 73 this month) from Alzheimer’s Disease. When he died, his assistant, Rob Wilkins, wrote from Pratchett’s twitter account, “AT LAST, SIR TERRY, WE MUST WALK TOGETHER.” In Pratchett’s Discworld series, DEATH was a (once in awhile) character and you knew when he appeared, because he always spoke in CAPITAL LETTERS. Scary, isn’t it?

My two favorite novels from the Discworld series are: His first novel, 1983’s The Colour of Magic and his 1999 novel, The Fifth Elephant. If you have never read a Discworld novel, do yourself a favor and read one...he was a great writer.   

Sunday, December 3, 2017

HYPNOSIS a return to the past


The author sent me a copy of her novel to read and review:

I think Maria Ines Rebelo’s first novel was somewhat of a menza menza effort for me. I never really felt any empathy for any of the characters. They all seemed one-dimensional with little, or no depth. The story was not exciting for me and I wasn’t sure what the purpose of the novel was. Why did the author spend the first 39 pages describing the hypnotist’s family...it was boring. And it wasn’t until page 68 that the hypnotist and his mysterious patient finally met. Poor editing (it threw me off-kilter) and misspellings annoyed me, such as hiss for his, di for did, and theyears without a break between the words. And on page 36, how can librarian Georgine Gunderson be “5 feet 25 tall?” I understand that writing a novel is difficult. I’m sorry that my review is not what the author probably expected, but the novel wasn’t fully ready for publication. At this point, I normally tell the author what I think she/he did well. In this case, I was going to pass, but then I thought that wasn’t fair since every writer has some attribute that can be nurtured. Ms Rebelo’s X factor is in storytelling. While still in it’s raw form, I think that it can be developed with (in my opinion) a better story. The author states, “Through reading her books she hopes that her readers acquire a different view of the power of the human mind, or mankind itself.”

Marcus Belling was a world famous hypnotist with his own TV show and private practice. Anne Pauline Roux was a troubled twenty-five year old woman. Marcus tries to help patients that have “trauma from dreams of past lives” via hypnosis sessions. Anne was a sad and anguished patient. “The dreams of past lives seemed to invade her nights, year after year. Try as she might, she could not prevent the same, familiar man’s voice putting in her mind a set of questions that did not seem random: Who are you? Are you able to travel to the past? Do you want to discover what exists there?” Anne was aware of the long dispute between Marcus Belling and his rival hypnotist, Josef Salvaterra, but she decided to seek treatment from the more famous Marcus Belling. Is Salvaterra going to muck this up? Anyway, Anne finally starts treatment with Belling on page 79. Her first hypnosis takes her back to 1785 as Aurelie Caen, a renowned scientist/chemist from the 18th century. “Even though she was in trance, Anne Pauline could clearly see and hear the two newly arrived persons. To Anne’s surprise, the woman was her, but living in another time!” The Caens’ and their assistant Rosalie were attempting to turn base metals into gold. While hiding under a table, Anne was watching the experiments when the unthinkable happened. Rosalie saw Anne! How was this possible? Although this novel mostly bored me, do you see how the right words in my review can make this novel exciting?

“Anne panicked. She could never imagine that someone in a past life could be able to recognize her in this different time and space and while under a hypnotic trance! She did not know how to react, but the green-eyed girl from the future was sincere as she begged to the Caens’ assistant: no-one could know that she was there. Rosalie was moved by this mysterious hiding woman’s despair and decided not to denounce her to the scientists.” When Anne came out of the trance, she decided to withhold this incredible information from Marcus. The novel was off and running...so to speak. So listen, as you know, I wasn’t thrilled by this story, but that doesn’t mean (that) you will not like it. So I do recommend this novel if the subject matter interests you.

RATING: 3 out of 5 stars

Comment: I remember a movie I saw in 1970, On a clear day you can see forever, starring Barbra Streisand and Yves Montand. It was a typical musical comedy/drama that Barbra starred in many times. In this movie she sees a psychiatrist about breaking her five pack a day smoking habit. She accidentally gets hypnotized and recalls fifteen different past lives. The psychiatrist falls in love with one of Barbra’s past lives, which causes a problem when Barbra’s character, Daisy Gamble, finds out that he is in love with a past life and not her. At her final meeting with the psychiatrist, she informs him that in a future life (the year 2038) they will be married. It was a fun movie.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Memory of a Bygone Christmas

A very short Christmas story by review contributor, Pat Koelmel:
A DAY IN DECEMBER
My father was known by most who knew him as a mean and nasty man.
He usually walked around with a scowl, and when he spoke, he spoke his mind even if it was hurtful. Therefore, it was no surprise that people avoided my father if they were lucky enough to be in the position to do so.
He also had a terrible temper that could be set off by the most minor of events. Spilled milk could easily do it. So it would make sense that my mother, my brothers and sisters, and I feared him most times.
But one Christmas something changed inside him if only for a short moment of time.
I was about 13 or 14 … maybe even 15. My father was watching TV when out of the blue he said to me, “This year, I’d like to take you myself to buy your Christmas present, maybe something to wear.”
I looked up from whatever I was doing. It was important to give my father your full attention when he spoke. I didn’t answer. I continued to listen instead.
“I want to be there to help you pick it out,” he further explained.
This was not something my father had ever suggested before. My mother always did the shopping. I didn’t know what to say so I just smiled.
My father rarely smiled, but this time he smiled back at me. In fact, he smiled back with a smile that almost glowed. His smile made me happy. Suddenly, I felt safe. Suddenly, I didn’t fear him.
“We’ll go wherever you want,” my father went on. “You choose the store.”
I picked Daniels. Daniels was a high-end store back then. It had the kind of clothes I only dreamed of owning.
I knew about Daniels because that’s where my big sister Joan bought all of her clothes. She came home with something new every week, but Joan could afford to shop there. She had finished school and was working full time in a fancy office.
My father and I went to Daniels that afternoon. The store was located in Somerville, just a ten-mile drive from home. The closer we got, the faster my heart beat.
When we walked into the store, my father headed for a chair. From there, he watched as I searched through the racks and racks of beautiful clothes. I wasn’t even worried that I might be taking too long. I looked back at my father. He was relaxed, still smiling.
I finally settled on a pair of stretch pants, the kind with stirrups. They were woven with a small black and white check print. I picked out a black turtleneck to go with them. I tried on both pieces in the dressing room and came out to show my father.
He smiled that warm smile again and nodded his approval.
After I changed back into the clothes I came in, I proudly walked up to the cash register with my father. Mr. Daniels chatted with us as he checked us out. When he handed me the package, he thanked us both for coming. “Merry Christmas,” he said.
I don’t remember when my father changed back to his old self again. Nor do I remember when a young girl’s blissful love for her father changed back into fear. It could have been an hour later … or the next day.
Many years later, I saw a similar pair of stretch pants, woven with a small black and white check print. I bought them even though I knew they were no longer something I would ever wear again. I tucked them away along with my memory of that day in December.

Monday, November 27, 2017

ARTEMIS


Andy Weir’s new novel moves from the world of Martian astronaut/potato farmer Mark Watney to the safer confines of Earth’s moon. I did like The Martian (see my review of 4/15/2014), but was mostly bored with the predominantly solo character novel. In Artemis, I wasn’t bored, but I wasn't enthralled either. Mr. Weir seems to get close to novel perfection but somehow missed his orbit on both novels. I wasn’t quite thrilled with his wise cracking, small time smuggler Jasmine Bashara, who suddenly turns into a super heroine (so to speak) after a failed attempt to earn a million slugs (Moon money) from one of the Moon’s richest citizens. I realize (that) what I think means very little to Mr. Weir since he probably earned a small fortune with his first novel’s movie receipts, but literature is literature. Neither of his novels are going to claim a piece of the Great American Novel. That term was first articulated by novelist John William Deforest in 1868, and he thought that Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin (see my review of 12/9/2012) was “the nearest approach to the desired phenomenon.” Anyway, I’m not saying Andy Weir is a commercial writer, but he hasn’t jettisoned from that stigma yet either. Mr. Weir’s novels remind me of American astronaut Alan Shepard, who was rocketed 116 miles up and down in a fifteen minute flight...unlike John Glenn’s actual three orbit ride. So what am I trying to say? I’m saying...write an American classic space opera instead of another inconsequential novel like this one. Take the real orbit ride, not the quick up and down ride. You can do it. Take your time. There’s no rush. You could be the next Issac Asimov. Okay, no more jawing - what’s this almost good novel about?
   
Artemis is a Moon colony with five main aluminum bubbles connected by tunnels no wider than a hallway. Jasmine Bashara (now 26 years old) has lived on the Moon most of her life with her recently alienated father, a master welder. She lives in a tiny enclosure that she calls her coffin, because you can’t stand up in it. She is trying to get her EVA license so she can join the EVA Guild (people who are trained and authorized to go outside the bubbles) and start earning some decent slugs. The Guild takes tourist outside the bubble to tour the Apollo 11 landing site during which the tour leaders wear their EVA suits while the tourists get around in individual hamster bubbles (pretty funny). Jazz (as Jasmine is known by) has recently failed her EVA test because her used faulty suit blew out a valve assembly and she had to run for her life back to the bubble. She couldn’t afford a new suit...it’s a catch 22 situation. Anyway, while she tries to save enough money, she works as a porter and small-time smuggler. One day she is called on her Gizmo (a futuristic smart phone) by one of the Moon’s wealthiest citizens, Trond Landvik. He offers Jazz a million slugs to destroy Sanchez Aluminum’s harvesting equipment. The Sanchez company makes oxygen for Artemis by separating anorthite rocks into aluminum, silicon, calcium and oxygen. Since they supply oxygen for the colony, Sanchez gets all the electricity they want for free. It’s a symbiotic relationship. Trond tells Jazz, “For the last four months, I’ve been collecting oxygen and storing it away. I have enough to supply the entire city’s needs for over a year.” Does Trond want to destroy Sanchez aluminum so he can take over their city contract, or does he have other motives?

Jazz says, “You want me to stop Sanchez’s oxygen production?” “Yes, I do.” He stood from his chair and walked over to the liquor credenza. This time he selected a bottle of rum. “The city will want a fast resolution and I’ll get the contract. Once that happens, I won’t even have to build my own smelter. Sanchez will see the futility of trying to make aluminum without free power and they’ll let me buy them outright.” Who really owns Sanchez Aluminum? Is Jazz about to open up a can of worms? You will have to read the next 262 pages to find out. One thing that Andy Weir did that was clever was the emailing back and forth from Jazz on the Moon to Kelvin at Earth’s KSC complex in Kenya (since they were each nine years old). Kenya set up the Moon base in the beginning and now KSC acts like a bank for Artemis converting Earth currencies to slugs. The sporadic conversations between the two gives the reader all the background information he/she needs without having some of the chapters in the past and some of the chapters in the present. For that I congratulate the author. I thought his prose could have been better - a lot of it was rudimentary. If my first paragraph analogy seemed space themed...it was done so on purpose. I did like the novel, but I think the author can do much better, especially in picking out the right story to tell.

RATING: 4 out of 5 stars

Comment: This the second time that Andy Weir has written a space opera (a novel set in outer space), but neither were great novels. I’m waiting for him to come up with a classic, like Arthur C. Clarke’s 1968 novel, 2001: a Space Odyssey (which became a four book series). Or Isaac Asimov’s 1951 novel, Foundation (which became a seven volume series). Or Frank Herbert’s 1965 novel, Dune (which became a six volume series). Do you see what I’m getting at? Write one great novel and the others will naturally follow along with many possible Hugo Awards.